How to Prepare For Your First Trip to a Ukrainian Village
Going to a typical Ukrainian village? Here are our best tips for avoiding culture shock!
How Village People Live In Ukraine
Ukraine has always been an agricultural country. Even as various industries developed, people never lost their ‘love for the land’. Today, many city families have a house or a villa in the countryside.
But don’t expect anything glamorous!
Ukrainian village houses are not like vacation hotspots in the South of France or Tuscany. That being said, they are still beautiful places to explore. When you’re staying in one, you are much closer to the authentic village life than you would be in a Western European summer villa.
Ukrainian Village: There Will Be Animals
People breed livestock in villages. It’s rarely ever for industrial purposes. You will find self-sustaining homes, where they feed, breed, and eat the animals. While this may sound like a wonderful and respectful way of doing things, and in many ways it is, it also means:
All The Smells!
I am sincerely sorry if you’re sensitive to strong odors. Where there are animals, there is smell. Chickens are not that bad but pigs… Ugh, you would not want to get close to their enclosures.
Personally, I am not that bothered by the smell of cow/pig/chicken poop. It does follow you around certain areas of the yard. As long as my bedroom doesn’t smell like it, I am all good. However, be prepared for a couple of days of adjustment, especially if you’re a city kid at heart.
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Roosters Will Wake You Up
Yet another one that doesn’t personally bother me. I am a very deep sleeper. Not even lawn mowers can wake me up. I’m not sure if I was blessed or if I should check my hearing, though.
For most people roosters are annoying. You can hear them throughout the day, not just in the morning. But don’t plan on sleeping in. People in the villages wake up early. Even if you don’t have to feed the cows, the rooster will be taking care of that.
Ukrainian Village: Green Everywhere
Is this the jungle?
That’s the most common reaction when you show pictures of a village. And it’s true. Green is everywhere. It’s a very calming and very clean place to stay.
Ukrainians joke that every city person should spend a few weeks in the village to clean his lungs. Whether that’s sound medical advice, or not, you will still notice the superior air quality.
… But You Might Feel More Tired Than Usual
Disclaimer: I have no idea why this is. As far as I know, there are no scientific explanations for the phenomenon. But boy, oh boy, is it true.
If you don’t live in a Ukrainian village, you will get tired (physically) much faster than usual. Locals say that it’s all the fresh air. I’m inclined to think that you move a lot more when you’re in the countryside. Getting outside is as easy as stepping out of your door.
Spending time closer to nature might be therapeutic, but expect to be dozing off by 10-11 PM. It has happened to even the strongest, most energetic people I’ve seen. Prepare to need some extra shut-eye time, at least in the beginning.
Ukrainian Village: Don’t Expect Luxury
In Ukrainian village houses, living conditions are far from high-end. Unless you’ve been invited to an oligarch’s private villa, expect very basic things. Some homes don’t even have an inside toilet.
The sewage system is virtually non-existent in many Ukrainian villages. As a result, people are forced to keep a septic tank. Building one is expensive so chances are if they had an outside toilet, they are keeping that instead of digging under the house.
The same goes for beds. You will have your own bed and clean linens – Ukrainian people are all about hospitality and they will do their best to welcome you. Don’t expect a king size mattress, though. The beds are usually a twin or twin XL and you’ll be getting those old-fashioned Soviet blankets, too.
Do Expect (And Respect) Hospitality
If you are going to a Ukrainian village, it means you’re going to somebody’s house.
There are ‘green tourism’ villas around major cities but these aren’t always worth it. Sometimes, you can end up in really crappy conditions and pay hotel prices for it. Green tourism can still be a great experience, just make sure you research the place and shop around for the best deal/recommendations.
Either way, expect amazing hospitality. People in Ukraine might not be the wealthiest but in the countryside, they are definitely the sweetest. Even if they don’t have much, they go to great lengths to make you comfortable and even pampering you.
Say you’re going to your Ukrainian girl’s babushka. She would have prepared a true feast for you! All of the food is fresh, homemade, and the products likely came from the garden. Ukrainian families spare no effort (even if they can only afford to spend very little).
You will be received like a king. Respect those people and their home. Yes, a Ukrainian village house might not be the Ritz. Still, you were invited and welcomed into another family’s house. The least you can do is eat the food and not complain. By the way, I’m yet to taste a bad meal made by a babushka so that part will not be too hard.
Bring A Gift For The Host
Gift-giving is very common in Ukraine. Showing up empty-handed, on the other hand, is definitely not.
You should see the number of things Ukrainians bring when they go to a family dinner. It goes beyond a bottle of wine or a nice dessert!
In the countryside especially, you are expected to arrive with a gift in hands. People would bring their homemade jams and preservatives, their horilka (also known as home-distilled samohon), flowers, dessert, maybe even a small gift for the home, depending on the occasion.
You would do well to bring a present, too. Something from your home country could be cool. In my experience, Ukrainian villages are much more isolated than cities. Their year-round inhabitants are elderly people (with the younger generation only coming to visit for holidays) which probably know little to nothing about Western culture.
If you can pick up some cookies, chocolates, candy, or any other cool thing that’s not available in Ukraine, that would definitely make a great impression.
Which brings me to my final point:
Your Packing List For A Ukrainian Village
Obviously, don’t forget the basics. Bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, your medication, lenses and lens solution if you need them, your passport, yada-yada. Hopefully, these are no-brainers.
Pack up the presents for the family, too.
Toiletries And Medication
If you’re staying longer, don’t rely on the village shop to buy more than the bare essentials. Using a specific hair gel? Stock up on that to last for your stay.
The same goes for sunscreen and even insect repellent. The latter is very important in summer. You might think Ukraine is a bit too cold for mosquitoes… Well, think again. They are downright vicious, especially near water.
Also, pack up some sort of ointment for when you (inevitably) get bitten by fleas or mosquitoes. Most insect bites and stings pass easily and don’t need medical attention. Over-the-counter creams work well to stop the itching (because otherwise, you’ll get some ugly scars). If you have any allergies, however, it’s worth bringing some anti-histamines just in case.
If you are especially sensitive to sound, you can bring earplugs. For the most part, this will be met with laughs from the locals. But hey, a good night’s sleep is essential!
Finally, if you are going with your girlfriend, careful with the condoms. Bring some, just don’t keep them on top of your toiletry bag. You don’t want grandma to stumble upon these.
Ukrainian Village Attire
Make sure you bring sunglasses and a hat. Actually, hats are a favourite among Ukrainian grandparents. It’s sound advice to wear one under the sun. Sunstrokes are not enjoyable and they could be easily prevented.
Check the weather forecast in advance to bring appropriate clothing. Don’t pack your fanciest stuff though. It’s easy to get dirty in the countryside. It’s best to keep your brand-new Yeezys (or whatever you kids are buying these days) for another place.
A lot of Ukrainian families even bring their old clothes to their village house/villa. This is one of the few places where Ukrainians do not dress to the nines.
Bring a waterproof jacket instead of an umbrella. If it’s pouring rain, you wouldn’t be going out of the house. When it just drizzles, however, it might still be nice enough for a walk. Raincoats are a lot more convenient for this than umbrellas and they don’t take up as much space!
Staying In A Ukrainian Village: Final Thoughts
While it’s a different experience, the Ukrainian countryside can be incredibly beautiful and fun. Go in prepared (and open-minded) and you’re sure to survive! If you need some extra pointers, just ask the local that is bringing you. They might laugh at your ignorance a bit but will surely help!